AAA Editor Notes
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is about 10 mi. s. of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on SR 1; watch for the turn-off and prominent entrance sign. Don't confuse Julia Pfeiffer Burns with the similar-sounding park to the north. Named for an early 20th-century pioneer who had an abiding love for the rugged Big Sur backcountry, this 4-square-mile park offers groves of redwood, tan oak and madrone trees as well as dramatic coastal views from the higher elevations of the hiking trails east of SR 1.
The park's unquestionable highlight is McWay Falls. From the parking area, take the signed Waterfall Trail; the approximately quarter-mile path follows McWay Creek, goes through a tunnel that burrows under SR 1 and emerges at a boardwalk that leads to the 80-foot drop, which you'll hear before you see. A slender ribbon of water plunges down to a rocky cove, with an ocean backdrop that is (at least on a sunny day) stunningly turquoise. Since the waterfall is fed by underground springs, it flows year-round. There's no access to the beach below, but the view from the boardwalk's elevated perspective is picture-perfect, and even more so during the spring months when the hillside tumbling down to the cove is blanketed with wildflowers.
The boardwalk continues past the falls for a short distance before ending at the ruins of the Waterfall House, where there's another awesome view—framed by eucalyptus trees—looking north along the Big Sur coastline. Sunsets at this spot are spectacular. In December and January the end of the trail is a good vantage point to spot gray whales migrating south to breeding grounds off the Baja California coast.
Note: The park is closed to visitors until further notice. SR 1 is closed from Palo Colorado Road south to the Ragged Point Research Station due to rock slides, dangerous driving conditions and the closure of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge due to structural damage caused by winter rainstorms in early 2017. Check the Caltrans website for the latest traffic conditions and up-to-date closure information.
Recreational activities are permitted. Time: Allow 2 hours minimum.